Characterization Of Gertrude And Ophelia


Characterization Of Gertrude And Ophelia Essay, Research Paper

Gertrude and Ophelia

Throughout Shakespeare?s Hamlet, major differences in the characters

of Gertrude and Ophelia are conveyed. As the play progresses, each

character becomes weakened by the external powers that surround them,

thereby corrupting their moral senses. Both Gertrude and Ophelia are

overthrown by the same corruptive force that leads both of these women

towards alienation. This corruptive force, referred to as Claudius, serves as

the dominant figure that contributes most to the result of Gertrude?s and

Ophelia?s alienation from society.

Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet, is the first

obvious character that the reader acknowledges as being in contact with

external difficulties. Because of King Hamlet?s mysterious death, Gertrude is

driven to marry her brother-in-law, Claudius, who now reigns as the King.

Undisturbed by her new status as wife to Claudius, Gertrude proceeds to love

her child, Hamlet, the way she always has. Objecting to this statement,

Hamlet is led to believe that his mother has changed. The Prince now sees

his own mother as incapable of love, for he refers to her earlier regard for

King Hamlet in terms of physical appetite:

Why, she would hang on him

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on… (Shakespeare 143-145)

While Gertrude continues to act peculiarly, Hamlet is so disgusted with his

mother?s actions and ways of thinking that he refers to her in a sense of a

mother and a wife who appeared so loving, but is actually degrading. Finally

determining this actualization, he concludes that all women are immoral:

?Frailty, thy name is woman? (Shakespeare 146). It will be to test his own

conclusion that Hamlet will turn to Ophelia.

Ophelia, the obedient daughter of Polonius, is introduced to the reader

as the second victim of external conflict. Ophelia, who hears of Hamlet?s

love for her, is overwhelmed by the news and tries to draw herself nearer to

him, allowing him to confess his love. However, with the news of Hamlet?s

love for Ophelia reaching her father?s ears, she is ordered to stay away from

Hamlet. Polonius claims that Hamlet?s ?love? for her is just an excuse to

please his boyish needs. Polonius appears to the reader as being more

concerned about his public image rather than on the future welfare of his

daughter. Obeying her father?s commands, Ophelia refuses to accept

Hamlet?s letters or talk to him, and she is somewhat saddened by her father?s

opinion. The reader is led to believe that Ophelia is really interested in

becoming close to Hamlet in ways she has dreamed of, but she must follow

her father?s orders. However, acting in this sense creates a conflict for

Ophelia. The reader sees Hamlet as the prey of hunters, while Ophelia is

portrayed as being treated like the hound.

When Ophelia and Hamlet meet alone together, due to a plan prepared

by Polonius, Ophelia appears to be reading a book of devotions. As both

characters exchange words, Hamlet admits to Ophelia that he denies ever

loving her and orders her to seek haven in a nunnery. He also declares that if

she should ever marry, she will not escape calumny. Ophelia is shocked by

Hamlet?s cruelty and directness, and the reader knows that Ophelia is hurt.

Left alone by Hamlet, she expresses her sorrow at witnessing what she is

convinced is the overthrow of a noble mind which had been the very pattern

of virtue and accomplishment (Shakespeare 139-142).

When Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus encounter the Ghost all together,

he tells them that Gertrude is a ?seeming-virtuous queen? (Shakespeare 46).

As Hamlet now begins to act erratically, Gertrude claims that love-madness

may explain his behavior. But that the love is about his father:

I doubt it is no other than the main,

His father?s death and o?erhasty marriage.

(Shakespeare 56)

However, the Queen?s words, ?But look where sadly the poor wretch comes

reading? (Shakespeare 168), suggest that Gertrude?s love and concern for her

son are genuine. The Ghost, seen by the three men, commands Hamlet to

?leave her to Heaven,? and called her a ?weak vessel.? Hearing these

remarks made by the Ghost, Hamlet extensively believes these words

admitting they were true, since Gertrude had willingly become a partner in an

incestuous marriage. But her undivided attention to the needs of Claudius

seem to be the magnitude of her guilt. This begins the alienation of

Gertrude?s character.

Ophelia, left completely shattered by Hamlet?s refusal of love, believes

that Hamlet did once love her, but now he had changed by tragedy:

O, what a noble mind is her o?erthrown!

The courtier?s, soldier?s, eye, tongue, sword;

The expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion and the mould of form,

The observ?d of all observers, quite, quite down!

(Shakespeare 158-162)

Ophelia is convinced that Hamlet is insane. Ophelia, determined to figure out

Hamlet, is actually oblivious to the fact that she is also suffering. Ophelia,

representing innocent love corrupted, is not being sent by her father to claim

her love, but as a spy seeking to find out the truth about Hamlet?s behavior.

She is used by Polonius. However, the ultimate source of corruption is King

Claudius, who orders Polonius, and drives Ophelia to alienation, acting solely

on his own personal satisfaction.

After the performance of the dreadfully accusing play, Gertrude meets

with Hamlet in her room. When Hamlet orders his mother to sit down and

listen to him, she is frightened and screams for help. Hidden behind a curtain

in Gertrude?s room, Polonius jumps out at her reply and is killed by Hamlet.

Stunned at his mother?s surreptitious movement, Hamlet looks down upon his

mother with resentment. Fiercely, Hamlet replies:

Almost as bad, good mother,

As kill a king, and marry with his brother.

(Shakespeare 28).

Hamlet asks Gertrude how she could have given herself to Claudius. He

accuses her of lustfulness. The Ghost then comes and Hamlet speaks to it,

while Gertrude expresses her conviction that her son is the victim of

hallucination. The Ghost reports that Gertrude is the weak vessel, deficient in

moral insight, and therefore, susceptible to the corruption brought upon by

Claudius. This conveys to the reader that Gertrude is alienated by the moral

corruption of King Claudius. The source of evil was King Claudius, who had

won over Gertrude as a partner in an unholy union.

Ophelia, after hearing of her father?s death, is seen singing verses of

ballads relating to a man being killed and of an innocent maiden. She seems

to be out of moral mind and behaves in an erratic manner. As this behavior

continues, it is reported that while Ophelia was weaving fantastic garlands

and hanging them on limbs of a willow tree, the limb broke and she fell into a

nearby stream. Consequently, she sank to the bottom and died. Ophelia?s

alienation is caused by the moral corruption of King Claudius.

Throughout the play, the character?s of Gertrude and Ophelia are led to

alienation by one single force. As the play progresses, each character

becomes weakened by the external powers that surround them, thereby

corrupting their moral senses. The ultimate source of corruption is King

Claudius, who rules in a world where women prove ?frail? and few men can

be believed.

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